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Sunday, 7 October 2007

Ashraf Barhom (Colonel Al Ghazi; pic) and Ali Suliman (Sargeant Haythom) who play members of the Saudi security force in The Kingdom are both Israeli natives, though Palestinian.

Paul Byrnes, who reviews the movie for The Sydney Morning Herald is, like me, confused as to truth in representation. For Byrnes, the premise is "ridiculous", the reason for the FBI inerstion "highly believable", and the plot "implausible". During the opening credits we're given a potted history of Saudi Arabia in terms of its connection to the world (primarily the U.S.) which is valuable, and which closes with a schematic depiction of an aeroplane flying toward a tall building.

Once inside the narrative, key individuals who are to make a decision as to whether an FBI crew is required to investigate the bombing inside the U.S. compound in the kingdom, are named and labelled. So the line between fact and fiction is narrow. According to Byrnes, the bomb site "is modelled on the Khobar Towers in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, which were bombed in June 1996".

The FBI send a motley crew which is headed by a black (Jamie Foxx) and includes a woman (Jennifer Garner), a Jew (Jason Bateman), and a loose cannon (Chris Cooper). On arrival, they are locked in a basketball court and told they will be let out at sunrise. "When's sunrise?" asks Fleury (Foxx). "When I say it is," responds Al Ghazi (Barhom).

Saudi intransigence is better taken "with a bucket of salt" says Byrnes. It makes for good drama, though. Byrnes also castigates the makers for aiming to "flush out Saudi belligerence" by using a woman and a Jew. Obstruction by the authorities, however, causes friendship to emerge between Fleury and Al Ghazi and this is one of the best elements of the film.

Unlike his superiors, Al Ghazi is keen to find and bring to account the perpetrators of the crime. This is set up when Damon Schmidt (Jeremy Piven), who plays a bland functionary, congratulates the team for locating some likely suspects and killing them. For him, the PR value of the result is of primary importance. Fleury and Al Ghazi, however, know this is not the end of the trail.

On their way to the airport the team are ambushed and one is captured, causing a fantastic chase sequence inside a 'hostile' sector of the city. "You only have to look at who dies to see which audience it is trying to send home happy," writes Byrnes. Granted. Nevertheless, the gritty on-the-ground feel and the dynamics between Fleury and Al Ghazi mean that the film needed to be made.

It is as Byrnes says "a fast-moving thriller" and should be understood as such.

It is in the loaded dynamics of politics and culture, in scenes where individuals react to each other under given situations, that the value of this movie ultimately lies. One such case is when a soldier says it is 'haram' for Mayes (Garner; a forensics expert) to touch a dead Muslim. In another, special agent Sykes (Cooper) wants to get dirty by draining the crater of the second bomb ("This hole is the case"), but can at first find no volunteers.

Cooper, who played John Larouche in the wonderful Adaptation (based on the non-fiction novel The Orchid Thief by New York Times writer Susan Orlean), is my fave for the flic.

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